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  August 4, 2014
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WISE Bites   Tasting Rooms in the Flesh
So, Where Are You From?   So Rhone, Yet So Right

How many times does a wine country visitor hear the question, “Where are you from?” And how often does our tasting room staff ask the same question in a day, weekend or week? If everyone asks the same question as an icebreaker, that gets old fast. Plus, we don’t want to sound like everyone else.

Eventually we need to find out where our visitors are from so we know whether it's a state where we can ship wine, but what sets us apart is how we find out.

To really make the most of an opening question, get the ball rolling with guests by using strategic questions that will answer not only where they are from, but also signal what type of wine buyer they are, their relationship to the winery or brand, and how they heard about our tasting room.

A much stronger icebreaker is: “How did you decide to visit our winery today?” Your guests may say they have never heard of your winery before, but their hotel recommended a visit, or the winery down the street sent them there, or they are a long-term club member and come every year, or they are on their honeymoon and this is their favorite wine. No matter what their response is, you will instantly have relevant information that can be a foundation for real conversation that builds real rapport and allows you to tailor a guest experience that creates real WOW factor.


We had a few comments about the anecdotal story of my trip to France last month, so I’ll add my account of visiting a tasting room in Vacqueyras that was extremely impressive in its size, quality and diversity.

Vacqueyras is in the Rhone region and 30 minutes by car from Gordes. Vignerons de Caractere is a co-op of about 80 wine producers (80% + organic or Biodynamic vineyards) in an ultra-modern structure combining tasting room and restaurant. Beatrice Charpentier is in charge of direct sales, and she gave me a great tour of the tasting room, which has very avant garde look showcasing dozens of labels and the appellations they represent. We followed this with a visit to the spotless and very modern three level, gravity-fed wine-production area where we met Sebastien Costantino, the caviste (winemaker-maitre de chai). Costantino is less than 30 years old, and already he is a master at his trade. Wines in the domaines area are aged in stainless steel (and a few epoxy-lined concrete vats), and some of the cuvees use oak barrels.

Charpentier made me a great gift of their Gigondas 2010 Eloquence (a blend of Grenache and Syrah), which was probably the best Rhone wine I had the entire trip. Vignerons de Caractere is a great place to visit and enjoy during your next trip…

See photos below.


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"WISE Bites" continued   "Tasting Rooms in the Flesh" continued
Using this icebreaker is an excellent way to start figuring out your customer within seconds of meeting them. Find out key nuggets of information that can be used to tailor the experience, such as:
  • Where are they on the buyers continuum? If we ask our guests the right questions, we can find out if they have been to our winery before, if they are wine club members or new to our brand. This will help ascertain whether they need help understanding the tasting options and how to better tailor their wine-tasting experience. It also helps set up the next open-ended question.

  • What kind of wine buyer are they? Ask questions such as: What is your favorite way to enjoy wine? What sort of things do you like to do while drinking wine? What other wineries are you visiting? The answers to these questions lead us to a better understanding of guests' wine and/or experience preferences. With follow-up questions, you can open the next level of conversation.
A secondary reason to ask how guests decided to choose your winery is to see if marketing dollars are being well spent with direct-marketing campaigns such as concierge programs or other advertising efforts. Referral programs that send qualified traffic need to be measured and nurtured, so asking this question helps on multiple levels.

We can also use the answer to where guests are from (and if we can ship there) to “silent sell.” Shipping can be used as a “seed planting” sales tool if the staff is asking the right questions and using shipping in a strategic way. For example, when finding out where guests are from, mentioning that the winery can ship to their home state helps put the idea of purchasing wine and shipping it into their minds early in the tasting room experience. Other examples include shipping sales, upselling bottles for the same cost of shipping, using cold packs in the summer, etc.

By asking open-ended questions, we can start to understand who is in front of us and tailor their experience to the maximum advantage—not only for sales but for a memorable, unique experience. How we treat a first-time visitor vs. a club member is as different as what those individual guests’ needs are. If we’re not asking the right questions, we will never get  beyond: “Where are you from?”

Source: WISE Academy,
Tasting Room
Visitors can pick up their favorite six-pack
and take it to the cashier.
Bulk Wine Station Self-serve bulk wine station.
   Magnum Magnums are displayed in a gift box
—they sell a lot!

Califonia Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill Allowing Wine Tastings at Farmers Markets
With several caveats, small estate wineries will be able to pour their samples at farmers markets. Read more in the Sacramento Bee.

Wine Industry Metrics
June had steady growth in sales and dramatic growth in job activity, indicating a strong vote of confidence for the near future of the North American wine industry. Read more in Wines & Vines.


Jacques Brix is vice president and director of sales, West Coast, for Wines & Vines. This column is based on his personal experiences at winery tasting rooms and events. Please send suggestions to



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